Used car in­tel­li­gence

Honda Civic Type R EP3

Autocar - - THIS WEEK -

Re­mem­ber when no­body knew what a Honda Civic Type R was? If you’re a younger reader, the chances are that you won’t, but once upon a time the Type R badge was re­served for ex­ot­ica avail­able only be­yond these shores.

Then, in the mid-1990s, some­one at Honda had the bright idea that the Bri­tish, with their leg­endary ap­petite for hot hatches, might just ap­pre­ci­ate such things wear­ing said badge. An ad­vance party was or­gan­ised, in the form of the In­te­gra and Ac­cord Type Rs, both of which be­came in­stantly de­sir­able thanks to largely favourable mag­a­zine cov­er­age. We were ready for the main course.

This was it. The EP3 Honda Civic Type R was a hot hatch like no other: be­neath its monobox, bread­van-like body lurked quirks such as a high driv­ing po­si­tion and a dash-mounted gearchange. But the big­gest talk­ing point was the 2.0-litre en­gine, which de­liv­ered its 197bhp peak at an ex­tra­or­di­nary 7400rpm. VTEC, Honda’s famed vari­able valve tim­ing sys­tem, had well and truly ar­rived in the world of hot hatch­backs.

Mind you, the VTEC switch to the higher camshaft pro­file in the Civic doesn’t quite have the same abrupt­ness as it did in ear­lier Type Rs, and the en­gine noise is slightly more muted – per­haps a cal­cu­lated move to in­crease its ap­peal to a less hard­core main­stream au­di­ence.

It still sounds great, though, that ul­u­lat­ing bark fill­ing the car as your re­ward for ek­ing out the last smidges of power. And the Civic’s 197bhp goes a long way. It feels prop­erly quick and nim­ble, un­en­cum­bered by the mass we’ve come to ex­pect from to­day’s hot hatches, de­spite hav­ing a mod­ern-feel­ing in­te­rior with air con­di­tion­ing and a CD player.

But what re­ally makes this Type R en­joy­able is how ut­terly bul­let­proof it feels. Even us­ing ev­ery last rev, time and again, the tem­per­a­ture gauge stands firm and the en­gine’s strength and po­tency never di­min­ish. The brakes, too, re­tain their bite and feel, even after you’ve stamped on them re­peat­edly. The sense that it just won’t quit gives you the con­fi­dence to use all of the Type R’s power.

So you feel you can push harder and harder still. The steer­ing may be numb – blame Honda’s pi­o­neer­ing spirit and the re­sult­ing elec­tronic as­sis­tance for that one – but it is at least sharp and quick. The chas­sis bal­ance is de­light­ful, too, al­low­ing you to ad­just the Civic’s tra­jec­tory on the throt­tle. Pretty soon, you don’t care about the lack of feel at the wheel, be­cause you’re hav­ing too much fun de­spite it.

There are other in­gre­di­ents here that make the EP3 such a joy to drive fast. That gear­lever might look odd, but in prac­tice it’s right where you need it to be, and the change is beau­ti­fully quick and pos­i­tive. And yes, the high seats do feel a bit odd at first, but never does this Type R feel top heavy and nor do you ever feel any­thing less than fully en­sconced.

It isn’t hard to see why the Civic Type R has be­come such a firm favourite. No, it isn’t quite as ex­hil­a­rat­ing or as hard­core as the In­te­gra Type R, but the trade-off is that it’s more us­able. Don’t imag­ine for a sec­ond that it isn’t the riot that you’d ex­pect from its rep­u­ta­tion, though. Its com­bi­na­tion of deft­ness, ex­u­ber­ance and tenac­ity make it this Civic Type R of the most tempt­ing hot hatch buys on the mar­ket to­day.

What makes this Type R en­joy­able is how ut­terly bul­let­proof it feels

Light­weight Type R makes full use of its 197bhp

Brakes stand up to re­peated hard use

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